Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big brudda comes to Namibia

Following the rather disturbing rant by Namibia's "father of the nation" Sam Nujoma comes word that a sinister spy bill was passed by Namibia's parliament which impacts the civil liberties of every Namibian citizen. The spy bill which was inserted into the Communications Bill tabled on Wednesday gives the authorities the right to intercept all telephonic communications, email, cell text messages and has implications for electronic and online credit transactions.

The bill stipulates that providers of telecommunications services must ensure that they have information on all their customers. All information so gathered must be forwarded to the requesting party. Such information “must be sufficient to determine which telephone number or other identification has been issued to a specific customer to make it possible to intercept the telecommunications of that customer”. The duty placed on telecommunications providers will be “enforced as if such duty were a licence condition”.

The bill says the interception centres “are necessary for the combating of crime and national security”. The centres will be staffed by members of the Namibia Central Intelligence Service.

Any person or institution authorised by law to intercept or monitor electronic communication can request the head of the interception centre to tap phone calls (mobile and fixed). Such a request must be accompanied with “any warrant that may be required under the law in question”; however, what kind of warrant and who should issue it is not clear. It’s a clear violation of the right to privacy.

The ‘Spy bill’ is also set to outlaw sites like Facebook and Internet banking.

The Communications Bill in its current form could make it a criminal offence to do Internet banking and get onto social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

This is how Peter Gallert, Polytechnic IT lecturer, interprets Section 76 (2) b of the Communications Bill, which makes provision for outlawing encryption. Internet services such as Hotmail, Gmail, Skype, Ebay, Amazon, MSN messenger and anti-virus software also will not work without encryption.

If you see the “lock” icon at the bottom or top of a Web page, it will not be usable without encryption.

Section 76 of the Communications Bill makes it illegal for people to sell or own equipment that may be used to prevent interception of data by the national intelligence service.

Gallert yesterday submitted the Polytechnic of Namibia’s School of IT’s comments to public hearings on the Communication Bill being held by a Parliamentary Standing Committee of the National Council.

He said by criminalising encryption, large portions of the Internet and private computer networks would not operate in Namibia anymore.

Virtual Private Networking offered by service providers to large companies relies heavily on encryption, as their traffic is routed over public network channels, he said.

This could mean all secure sites or networks, such as Internet banking sites, would be rendered illegal because they cannot be intercepted.

He said Section 76 (2) (b) includes all data encryption, including those necessary for legitimate transactions such as online banking, online shopping and general Internet business applications. Gallert said in terms of Section 76 (2) (a), the Minister of Information on recommendation by the Intelligence Director General may regulate equipment seen as being able to perform interceptions.

This is not practical, he said, as all computers, cellphones and every programming language could be used for that purpose.

“The fact that a knife can be used to stab a person cannot be sufficient reason to outlaw knives,” he told the committee.

He added that the bill is not clear on actions that are executed for educational purposes in private networks, stating that the Polytechnic’s degrees in computer networking must cover encryption techniques to be effective.

Oops! The NC passes ‘Spy Bill’ without amendments

Confusion reigned at the National Council yesterday after lawmakers passed the Communications Bill through the committee stage without amendments.

Instead of stating that they were passing the Bill with amendments, as proposed by the standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and security chaired by Swapo Chief Whip Jhonny Hakaye, the National Council passed it without mentioning a word about the amendments.

The Namibian understands that the ‘mistake’ was realised shortly afterwards and some MPs started blaming the staff for not alerting them in time.

“I don’t know what will happen now but what is clear is that people got too excited and got carried away. They were supposed to say that they accept the Bill with or without amendments but they just passed it,” said one source.

Since the Bill went through the committee stage without an amendment, it was not clear whether the NC could recall it to that stage or let it go through to the last stage and for the President’s signature and gazetting.

That means any amendment can only be made afterwards.

The Chairman of the National Council, Asser Kapere, his deputy Magreth Mensah-Williams, Secretary to the National Council Panduleni Shimutwikeni and Hakaye were not available for comment yesterday afternoon.

On Wednesday, the standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and security tabled its report following a public hearing and proposed several amendments to the Bill.

These included a recommendation that only the Judge President or another Judge designated by him should be able to issue an interception order against individuals and companies.

Such an interception order must also only be made with very clear indication of who the applicant is, against whom, the type of communication that will be intercepted and through which telecommunication or postal service provider such interception will take place.

The committee conducted a three-day public hearing in Windhoek earlier this month to get input from different people and organisations on the controversial Bill.

3 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Do these coons even know what encryption is? Or is it just more white man's magic to them?

Anonymous said...

Funny thing with as of this is that they will have no one with the slightest clue of what all the information means.

Zarky said...

Namibia just went back a hundred years with such a clever bill being passed, what are they scarred off? Gees for goodness sake you are not a super power that need to worry so much about these things! Or is it maybe the communist side showing their full true colours - lol!!!